Tuesday, August 27, 2013

We have been nominated!

Greetings! My business, Mother McCaul's, has been nominated for Martha Stewart's 2013 American Made Audience Choice Awards. This event honors small businesses and crafters across the country. It started yesterday, and the first round continues through September 13th. I would really appreciate your votes!

Click this link to visit my profile page & vote, if you wish.

You can vote up to 6 times per day. If it's your first time voting, you'll be asked to register (which is super easy & only requires an email address and a password of you choice), or you can sign in with Facebook.

This is a great opportunity for my business & I'm pretty excited about it. Thanks so much for your support!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Emma Purple Aromatics

© Trish McCaul

 Greetings everyone! I've been working like a beast for the last 18 months on a whole new line of products...Emma Purple Aromatics. This line features incense & perfume/cologne oils made from organic and wild-harvested plant extracts, with absolutely nothing synthetic. I named it after my half-Cherokee great-great grandmother, Emma Purple McCaul.
   The inspiration for this new line grew from my 8 years (and counting) of work and study as an herbalist. Organic & wild-harvested plants yield numerous medicinal benefits, providing healthy substances which positively effect the physical, mental and emotional realms of our lives. Synthetic fragrances are chemical cocktails that have a negative impact on health & well-being, and bear none of the aromatic complexity evident in plants. That is why I began this new adventure: to give folks safe, lovely aromatic options which delightfully evoke the aromatic nuances of the field and the forest. I've been making skin healing salves for 6 years. This foray into good aromatics is a salve for the spirit.

© Trish McCaul

  All of my perfumes are made with only organic & wild-harvested plants and plant extracts in a base of organic golden jojoba oil. The essential oils used are only CO2 & hydro-distilled. I do not use any that are extracted with harmful solvents (like hexane). They come to you in a 5 ml glass bottle, packaged in a lovely gift box filled with organic and wild-harvested aromatic plants. The aromatic plants may be burned as an incense on a charcoal incense tablet, for an extra sensory treat. Charcoals are available on the Emma Purple Aromatics website. There is also a sampler set available, if you want to try a little of all of them.

© Trish McCaul

  The incense I make is called kyphi incense, referring to a process of incense-making that was perfected in Egypt thousands of years ago. It involves infusing aromatic herbs, flowers, roots, resins, barks & berries in a base of honey & wine. It is then formed into bricks and cured for several weeks. To burn, simply break a pea-size amount from one of the bricks, and burn on a charcoal incense tablet. My incense contains only organic & wild-harvested plant material, with wine and local desert honeys. It comes to you in a gift box, enclosed with a satin ribbon.

Emma Purple Aromatics has a lovely website. Click here to visit it.

I've also set up a Facebook page for it. Please go give it some love.

And, as always, feel free to leave a comment below with any questions or observations you may have.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Herbs for Sleep

© Trisha McCaul

  People often ask me, "If there was only one thing I could do (or take) to improve my health, what would it be?" The answer, though often a noticeable let-down, is simple, extremely practical, and doesn't require a magic pill. "Get consistently good sleep."
 In this post, I'll be covering the reasons why sleep is so important, simple tips for improving your sleep, and herbs to help you along the way.

Importance of Sleep

   In the industrialized nations and particularly in the US, the average amount of sleep we get per night has drastically decreased in the last hundred years. According to herbalist Paul Bergner, in 1910 people slept 9 hours per night, on average. Today, the average is 7 hours during the workweek, and fewer than 8 hours on the weekend. One-third of the population gets under 6 hours of sleep per night, while only one-third sleeps at least 8 hours. In our cultural context of focus on work and productivity, we've become a nation of the sleep deprived, and overlook the most basic form of self-nourishment. It is generally recognized that sleep deprivation causes the break-down both the mind and the body. With so many folks not getting enough sleep, it certainly makes you wonder how our communities, and our world as a whole, are affected.

  Why is sleep so important? The reasons are numerous.
Inadequate (and low-quality) sleep is associated with:
- Altered mood
- Impaired performance of mental and physical tasks. Memory is also impaired, motivation is reduced and it becomes more difficult to learn new things. Risk for accidents also increases.
- Increased risk for depression.
- Impaired cardiovascular health. The tendency for blood to clot increases, as do triglyceride levels. There is also an increase in the risk for high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, stroke and heart attack.
- Increased secretion of certain thyroid hormones, which is indicative of thyroid stimulation. Long-term stimulation of the thyroid can lead to thyroid disease.
- Depressed growth hormone production. Growth hormone promotes tissue regeneration and immune system health, as well as healing and repair of lean body mass.
- Lowered libido.
- Increased risk for obesity.
- Increased cortisol secretion. Cortisol is a stress-related hormone.
- Impaired immune function, especially of the immune components responsible for fighting viral infection and cancer.
- Impaired glucose tolerance & possible increased risk for diabetes.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, really. Truth be told, we still don't completely understand all of the reasons why we sleep. Scientifically, we're still learning a lot about sleep.

General Tips for Getting Better Sleep
- Don't stay up late and cut into your sleep time. Go to bed early enough to get at least 8 hours of sleep.
- Eat dinner at least 3 hours before going to bed. Food will increase your body's metabolism, which can keep you awake. Avoid sugar in the evening. Avoid caffeine after 3 or 4 pm - or all together if you find yourself particularly sensitive to stimulants.
- Go outside and get some sunshine during the day. This will help your body set a natural rhythm of melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for our sleep cycles.
- Keep your room dark and cool at night. Any light source will disrupt melatonin production. 
- Avoiding mentally or emotionally strenuous activity before bed (like watching the news) will help you relax into sleep.
- Use your room only for sleeping. Never do work in your room, even during the day. This will help program your brain that your bedroom is for resting, not work.
- Identify your hidden passion. If you had unlimited funds and resources, what would you do with your time? Immerse yourself in your passion before you go to sleep. If you like painting, paint a bit, or look at an art book. If you like cooking, plan out an awesome recipe, or look at a cook book. I like plants, so every night I read an herbal materia medica, put on an aromatic plant-infused balm or perfume & look at a wildflower guide before I go to sleep. I find that a nourished spirit lends to a restful body. It also is food for the dream world.

 Herbs For Sleep Support

  There are many herbs with varying sedative properties. While the list below is by no means exhaustive, these are the herbs I have the most experience with. They are available in capsule, liquid tinctures and teas. When taking herbs for insomnia, I prefer to use a liquid form (tincture or tea), because they absorb and act more quickly. Many people find it most effective to take part of the dose 1/2 an hour before bed and the rest at bedtime.


~Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)~

  Passionflower is one of my favorite relaxant herbs. It's best for insomnia due to mental activity... a busy mind. When your body is ready for sleep but your mind isn't quite there, if you lay in bed with thoughts going round and round in your head, then passionflower can help. In my experience, it doesn't make all the thoughts go away, it just makes them more peripheral and they don't have as much consequence. I've used passionflower to quiet the re-visitation of the 80's hair band song that I heard at a store earlier in the day, or the brain noise that worry can sometimes produce.
  Passionflower doesn't produce feelings of grogginess in the morning. In fact, it can be used during the day time for nervousness and anxiety.

 Skullcap  © Trisha McCaul

 ~Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.)~

  Skullcap is calming to the nervous system, so it's great for nights when you are feeling twitchy and restless. It helps the body relax, easing the tension that sometimes contributes to insomnia. It can also serve to reduce mild nerve pain and muscle spasms.

California Poppy

~California Poppy (Eschscholtzia californica)~

  California poppy is great for insomnia due to pain. I've used it for pain due to cramps, as well as pain from a day that was rougher than usual on my physical body. California poppy is also great for those who wake frequently, finding it difficult to sleep through the night. It supports deeper, and more consistent sleep.


~Valerian (Valeriana spp.)~
  Valerian is a pretty straight-forward sedative. It's hugely popular for this purpose and can be helpful in overcoming insomnia due to pain or general tension, and improve the quality of sleep. However, in about 10% of people, it can actually make insomnia worse. This can be mitigated by using a tincture prepared from the fresh plant, which seems to produce this effect less often. When I use it, I take it in blends with other sedative herbs.

  While magnesium is a mineral, not an herb, it's definitely great for sleep problems. A vast array of the body's processes rely on magnesium. It's estimated that up to 80% of Americans are deficient in this vital mineral. Notably, magnesium is a muscle relaxer, so overly-tense muscles can be a sign of deficiency. If you wake with leg cramps at night, or if you grind your teeth, magnesium is a great place to start. 

Bergner, Paul. "Sleep Debt: Pathophysiology and Natural Therapeutics". Medical Herbalism. Spring 2003: pp. 1-9

Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2003.
Peri, Camille. "Coping With Excessive Sleepiness" http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/10-results-sleep-loss

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2009.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Vanilla Rose Herbal Chai

Vanilla Bean & Rose Petals      ©Trisha McCaul

  Wintertime is here. For many of us, it brings that wonderful hybernation-rich, yin & scarf-wearing energy. The cool weather always inspires me to explore the alchemy of tea making. I love hunkering down in my kitchen, blending handfuls of loose herbs into delicious warming beverages. Working with plants in the winter sustains me and serves as a reminder that the spring isn't too far off and the green verdant plant life will return once again.
   I was pondering the nuances of chai tea recently, and wanted to experiment with it. Chai tea is originally from India, and it traditionally contains black tea, milk, aromatic spices and a sweetener like sugar or honey. The popularity of chai has spread globally, and there are several variations on this recipe. Chai teas are very nice in the winter, because they are rich in aromatic spices that increase circulation and help warm the body. The recipe below is the result of my experiment with adding vanilla bean and rose petals to an aromatic, chai-type tea. It is very delicious and the spicy, and its enticing scent filled my house. It is caffeine-free, but black tea can easily be added for a more traditional version.

Cinnamon & Cloves       ©Trisha McCaul  

All of the herbs I used in this tea were in dried form. Most health food stores and herb shops carry them.

Ingredients (measured by weight)
1 ounce ginger root (I used the dried, cut & sifted root)
1 ounce fennel seed
1/2 ounce whole cloves
1/2 ounce anise seed
1/2 ounce cardamom seeds
1/2 ounce cinnamon chips (I used whole cinnamon sticks, broken up by hand into chips)

Small handful rose petals (per serving)
1" piece of vanilla bean, minced (per serving)

Mix together the ginger, fennel, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. This is the base for the tea. The measurements above provide enough of this mixture for seven servings. If you aren't going to use it all, it can be stored for later use. The vanilla and rose will be added later in the process of brewing the tea.

To make one serving:
Put 1/2 ounce of above spice mixture into a saucepan with 16 ounces of water. Cover. This is very important because these aromatic spices contain volatile oils which will easily evaporate from an uncovered pot.
Heat until just boiling, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the rose petals and vanilla bean. Cover & let sit for another 10 minutes. Strain out the herbs from the tea. If you wish, add milk or honey. Enjoy.

This recipe is very forgiving, so don't worry if your amounts aren't exact. Play around with it. The vanilla and rose notes are not over-powering. If you want them stronger, simply add more to your tea.

©Trisha McCaul

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Yerba Mansa

Latin Name: Anemposis californica

Plant Family: Saururaceae (Lizard Tail)

Common names: Apache beads, Bavisa, Lizard Tail, Manso, Raiz del Manso, Swamp Root, 
Yerba del Manso, Yerba Mansa

Taste: Astringent, Spicy, Aromatic, Acrid

Energetics: Warming & Drying

Actions:  Antibacterial, Anti-emetic, Antifungal, Anti-inflammatory, Astringent, Carminative, Diuretic, Vulnerary

Parts used: Root & Leaf

   Yerba mansa is a perennial plant which grows throughout the American southwest and northern Mexico. It grows in stands in wet, boggy, alkaline locations. Yerba mansa has a rich ethnobotanical history of usage amongst native cultures including the Pima, Mayo, Yaqui, Mexican, Chumash and Shoshone peoples. It is an old, and powerful medicine. I feel particularly attached to this plant because it drastically altered my quality of life.

   Yerba mansa has an affinity for the mucous membranes of the body. Mucous membranes are found in the mouth, sinuses, lungs, and the digestive and genitourinary tracts. In particular, yerba mansa seems most effective in treating slow-healing, chronic conditions effecting these areas of the body. It's an astringent that it tonifies the mucous membranes, helps remove matter that inhibits proper tissue repair, while improving the transport of fluids.


Yerba mansa is a fantastic herb for conditions where the sinuses are in a state of subacute congestion, with plentiful (and seemingly endless) mucous discharge. It makes a nice substitute for goldenseal for this purpose. Think of it when there's a head cold that's past the hot, acute stage, or in cases of chronic sinus irritation due to sensitivity to allergens and the like.

This is an experience I had with yerba mansa:
  I rarely suffered from allergies or hayfever before I moved to the desert southwest. However, the dryness, dust and exotic pollen took a toll on my sinuses, which became chronically irritated. The whole affair culminated in a very nasty sinus and ear infection, and I ended up taking a round of antibiotics to deal with it.  However, after the antibiotics my sinus irritation returned to the state of chronic irritation and I developed a rather intense case of tinnitus on top of it. The tinnitus was very nerve-wracking. I enjoy being able to sit in silence, but with the constant ringing in my ears this joy was taken away from me. It took at least a year for this to subside to a somewhat manageable level. So, I lived for several years with sinuses that would run or stuff up with the slightest provocation (with dust and synthetic fragrances being the biggest culprits). After I'd started learning about herbs, I decided to try some yerba mansa root tincture.
   The results were nothing less than amazing. I took 2 or 3 doses a day for two days, and my sinus issues significantly subsided. My nose simply stopped running, my sinuses felt normal. And the effects lasted long after I stopped taking the tincture. This healing experience helped me to look deeper for the underlying organic cause of this weakness, enabling me to address the issues and further correct the problem.
   My experience, coupled with other observations gathered over the years, leads me to believe that yerba mansa is much more than a drying herb for drippy sinuses. In my experience, yerba mansa is an herb that acts as a tonic that strengthens the sinus tissues themselves, allaying organic weakness in the structures.

Mouth, Throat, Digestive & Urinary Tract

  Yerba mansa is helpful for chronic gum problems. The diluted tincture can be used as a healing mouthwash for oral sores or receding and inflamed gums. It can also be used as a gargle for sore throats and throat sores (heh heh). 
   In the digestive system, yerba mansa's anti-inflammatory and astringent properties make it useful for diarrhea and other digestive problems. It is also a healing agent for stomach and duodenal ulcers. I've heard that it can kill giardia, but I can't vouch for its efficacy with personal experience.
   Yerba mansa's affinity for mucous membranes also extends to the urinary tract, where it can be helpful for chronic urinary tract infections.

Joint Issues

  Yerba mansa was used by native peoples as a remedy for arthritis. It calms inflammation and facilitates the excretion of nitrogenous acids (like uric acid), which contribute to joint issues like arthritis and gout. For this purpose, it is most often taken as a tea, added to a bath or applied as a poultice.

Topical Uses
   As a salve or a poultice, yerba mansa is invaluable in treating slow-healing wounds, cuts, sprains, bruises, staph infections and skin ulcers. Because it has antifungal properties, it also helps with fungal issues like ringworm and athlete's foot. The root can be ground up for use as a healing body powder.

Historical Uses
   King's American Dispensatory has the following to say about yerba mansa:
"Dr. W.H. George...states that the natives esteem it a panacea far excelling the Yerba Santa, and successfully employ it in all malarial fevers, in diarrhoea, and in dysentery. In a letter to Prof. King, he observes that the natives frequently carry the root with them, chewing it and swallowing the juice, and consider it a certain remedy for cough and pulmonary affections. They likewise employ a strong infusion of it an an efficacious local application to saddle and collar sores on horses. Dr. George considers it a stimulant tonic, astringent, carminative and anti-emetic..."

   I usually use yerba mansa in tincture form. The taste is spicy, slightly acrid, with a very noticeable astringent effect. It can also be made into a tea. Topically, it can be made into a salve, powder or a poultice.

Yerba Mansa  © Trisha McCaul



Felter, Harvey Wickes and John Uri Lloyd. King's American Dispensatory Vol. II. Sandy: Eclectic Medical: Publications, 1997.

Mars, Brigitte. The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine. Laguna Beach: Basic Health Publications, 2007.

Moore, Michael. Los Remedios: Traditional Herbal Remedies of the Southwest. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1990.

Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1989.

Skenderi, Gazmend. Herbal Vade Mecum. Rutherford: Herbacy Press, 2003.

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2009.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Elderberry Syrup

Deutschlands Flora in Abbildungen (1796)

   Fall is here, and though I bemoan the loss of the vibrant green plant life in the forest and the city, I also enjoy the fall as the time of year for preparing my wintertime medicines. One of my favorites is elderberry syrup. Elderberry syrup is very easy to make and tastes delicious. First we'll look at its benefits, then at a recipe you can use to make your own.
   Elder belongs to the Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle) family of plants, and there are over 30 species globally. Common species are Sambucus nigra, an old world native and Sambucus canadensis, which is indigenous to North & Central America. My local elder is Sambucus mexicana, or Mexican Elder, which matures at between 15- 35 feet in height, given enough rain and mild winters temperatures. Sadly, we've had two rough winters (by desert standards), and two years of drought, which has taken a toll on our local elder trees.

   Early European peasants and Native Americans used and revered elder, and it's still a widely used herbal medicine. Rightly so, as the plant is a trove of medicine. The flowers, leaves and berries are the parts used. In this post, we'll be looking at the medicinal properties of the berry. Note: When using elder medicinally, use only the varieties that produce the blue and black berries. Species that produce red berries (like Sambucus racemosa and S. pubens) are potentially toxic. It's also important to only eat elderberries that have been cooked first, as they cause digestive upset when consumed in raw form. The raw seeds are potentially toxic as well.

   Elderberry is first and foremost known as a superb herb for preventing and treating colds, flu and coughs. It has been used for this purpose for thousands of years. It is also great for sore throats and inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. Elderberry is an excellent antiviral, having a particular affinity for inhibiting the viruses that are responsible for the common cold and influenza. How does it do this? These viruses have surface "spikes" called hemagglutinins, that the viruses use to attach to and infect healthy cells. These viral "spikes"  are also coated in an enzyme called neuraminidase, which helps the virus penetrate the membrane of the healthy cell. It's thought that elderberry works by both disarming both the "spikes" and the enzyme. Modern research has confirmed that elderberry is effective against many different strains of influenza, and has been proven to shorten the duration of this illness.
  Elderberries contain beta-carotene, B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, and flavonoids (like rutin and anthocyanins). They are also high in iron, and were once used in the treatment of anemia.

Making Elderberry Syrup
1/2 cup dried elderberries (or 1 cup fresh elderberries)
3 cups water
1 cup honey (I prefer local raw honey)
Yield: Approximately 28 ounces

*Note- I usually make larger batches because I like to give some to friends and family. In the photos below, I quadrupled the recipe, which yielded approximately 116 ounces of syrup.

1) Put the elderberries and the water in a pot or saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes.

2)  Remove from heat. Mash the berries. A potato masher works well for this.

3) After the mixture has cooled enough to handle comfortably, strain the mixture. I line a wire mesh strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl. Be sure that your straining system is fine enough to strain the seeds from the liquid. You do not want them in your syrup. After I've poured the syrup through the strainer into the bowl, all the the elderberries are resting on the cheesecloth, which can be picked up and given a good squeeze to extract more out of the elderberries. Compost the elderberries when done.

4) Add the honey to the syrup, stirring until dissolved.

5) Pour your syrup into jars or bottles. Be sure to label it and date it.


6) Refrigerate the syrup. It will keep for 2-3 months.

To use: Take 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon twice daily as needed. Elderberry syrup can be taken as preventive medicine throughout the cold and flu season, as well as during these illnesses.
Some folks like elderberry syrup on ice cream, pancakes or other desserts.


Cech, Richo. Making Plant Medicine. Williams: Horizon Herbs, 2000.

Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Recipes For Vibrant Health. North Adams: Storey, 2008.

Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

Mars, Brigitte. The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine. Laguna Beach: Basic Health Publications, 2007.

Skenderi, Gazmend. Herbal Vade Mecum. Rutherford: Herbacy Press, 2009.

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide To Old World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2008


Sunday, September 30, 2012

New website on the harvest moon!

Greetings! I've been in submersed in technology for a few weeks, putting the finishing touches on the Mother McCaul's website. Mother McCaul's is a tremendous labor of love for me, and this website is an extension of that. To make safe, healthy, organic and effective topical creations is part of my calling. I consider it a tremendous blessing to be able to work with plants, and the affirmation I have received from those who use my creations inspires me further.
So, last night, in the light of the harvest moon rising over the mountains, I launched my website:


Please visit and spread the word.

Coming soon will be my botanical perfume & incense site, Emma Purple Aromatics.

Meanwhile, now that I'm back to the "real world", I'll be writing and posting more about herbs.